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Posted at: Apr 13, 2019, 8:33 AM; last updated: Apr 13, 2019, 8:33 AM (IST)

Shake it off

Parkinson’s no longer affects the geriatric population only. People in their forties and fifties can also get afflicted with it

Dr AK Sahni

The diagnosis of an early onset of Parkinson’s disease for a dear one can be upsetting for the whole family. Parkinson’s disease (PD) disturbs the mental and the physical harmony of a person. PD’s early onset, especially when an affected person is between 21 and 50 years, is quiet disturbing. According to recent global trends, Parkinson’s is no more a disease that affects the geriatric population: About 10 to 20 per cent of people diagnosed with Parkinson’s in the USA are under 50. Nearly half of the patients are diagnosed before they reach 40 years.

The disease often goes unnoticed, hence remains undiagnosed and untreated for a long period of time. Though the disease is predominantly diagnosed in people in their sixties, its progress varies depending on a person’s health, regardless of his/her age. 

According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Parkinson’s is the 14th top reason of mortality in the world. It affects the dopamine-releasing neurons of the human brain and restricts the balanced functioning of the nervous system. The depletion of neurons in the brain impairs the ability of a person to concentrate, balance and work and satisfactorily and normally. 

People, who suffer from Parkinson’s disease, experience tremors in legs, jaw, face, hands and arms, faulty gait due to motor deficits, limb rigidity and problems in balancing their bodies. 

Causes behind early onset

The reasons remain a mystery though many believe genetic and environmental factors to be the triggers that affect dopamine production.Dopamine acts as a neurotransmitter and sends the signals to the brain for controlling the body movements. However, researchers are still struggling to figure out the correlation between genetics and exposure to external environment in causing the disease. According to the National Parkinson’s Foundation, 32 per cent those between 20 and 30 years are affected because of genetic mutations. Environmental reasons such as exposure to insecticides, fungicides and chemical herbicides could raise the risk of  Parkinson’s.  

In rare conditions, the disease is detected in the teenagers and children, which is termed as Juvenile Parkinsonism.   

Delaying measures

Researchers are still trying to solve the mystery to prevent the Parkinson’s completely. There are no definitive prevention measures yet. However, some of these measures may help delay the onset. 

Intake of caffeine: Consuming caffeine-induced products like coffee, tea and cola may protect one from the early onset of the disease, according to a study published by Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. 

Vitamin D: Increased proportion and consumption of vitamin D in the body is believed to control and reduce the risk of developing Parkinson’s. 

Exercise: Following a regular workout regime and keeping your muscles active can reduce the muscle stiffness and strengthens the body’s ability to reduce the risk factors irrespective of the gender and age. 

Common indicators

Depending on the severity of the disease, symptoms differ and can vary with age, gender and health conditions. Some of the common symptoms are: 

Tremors: People who develop Parkinson’s suffer from tremors in leg, jaw, face, hands and arms, even when your body is at rest. 

Stiffness and rigidity: Stiffness in muscles hinders the proper body movement, which is quite painful when you try to make movements in any direction. 

Inability to perform movements: Walking, smiling, blinking and other minor muscles spasms become a challenge for someone affected by Parkinson’s disease. 

Speech problems: With the level of severity, one can go from speaking softly to blurry, and sometime one also hesitates before speaking anything. 

Risk factors

Parkinson’s has been associated with several conditions that may increase the chances of its early onset. 

Environment: Exposure to chemicals such as manganese, lead and trichloroethylene (TCE) may promote early onset of Parkinson’s. TCEis used primarily to make refrigerants and other hydrofluorocarbons. It is also used in some household products, such as cleaning wipes, aerosol cleaning products, tool cleaners, paint removers, spray adhesives and carpet cleaners and spot removers. 

Besides exposure to these, head injuries and working in the atmosphere where you are exposed to harmful solvents increase the chances of being affected with Parkinson’s disease prematurely.  

Age: With increasing age, the probability of developing Parkinson’s increases, generally starting from the middle age till the age of 60 and more. 

Gender: In comparison to women, men are more prone to developing this disease.

—The writer is head, neurology department, Indian Spinal Injuries Centre, New Delhi

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